About Listeria

Presented By Marler Clark The nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks.

Preventing Listeria Infection

Important food safety measures should be followed to prevent Listeria infection – especially among the elderly and pregnant women.

Given its widespread presence in the environment, and the fact that the vast majority of Listeria infections are the result of consuming contaminated food or water, preventing illness and death is necessarily (and understandably) a food safety issue.

L. monocytogenes presents a particular concern with respect to food handling because it can grow at refrigerator temperatures (4°C to 10°C), temperatures commonly used to control pathogens in foods. Freezing also has little detrimental effect on the microbe. Although pasteurization is sufficient to kill Listeria, failure to reach the desired temperature in large packages can allow the organism to survive. Food can also be contaminated after processing by the introduction of unpasteurized material, as happens during the preparation of some cheeses. Listeria can also be spread by contact with contaminated hands, equipment and counter tops. [4]

The use of irradiation to reduce Listeria to safe levels in foods has many proponents. [26] As noted by an eminent CDC researcher, Robert V. Tauxe,

Ready-to-eat meats, such as hot dogs, have already been subjected to a pathogen-killing step when the meat is cooked at the factory, so contamination is typically the result of in-plant contamination after that step. Improved sanitation in many plants has reduced the incidence of infection by half since 1986, but the risk persists, as illustrated by a large hot dog-associated outbreak that occurred in 1999. Additional heat treatment or irradiation of meat after it is packaged would eliminate Listeria that might be present at that point. [26]

The CDC provides a comprehensive list of recommendations and precautions to avoid becoming infected with Listeria, which are as follows:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry to a safe internal temperature. For a list of recommended temperatures for meat and poultry, visit the USDA Website.
  • Rinse raw vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats and poultry separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.
  • Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.

Recommendations for persons at high risk, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above, include:

  • Meats
    • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, other deli meats (e.g., bologna), or fermented or dry sausages unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving.
    • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog and lunch meat packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
    • Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads from a deli or meat counter or from the refrigerated section of a store. Foods that do not need refrigeration, like canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads, are safe to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
  • Cheeses
    • Do not eat soft cheese such as feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or panela (queso panela) unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK.”
  • Seafood
    • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, or unless it is a canned or shelf-stable product. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” These fish are typically found in the refrigerator section or sold at seafood and deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned and shelf stable tuna, salmon, and other fish products are safe to eat.

Recommendations to keep food safe:

  • Be aware that Listeria monocytogenes can grow in foods in the refrigerator. Use an appliance thermometer, such as a refrigerator thermometer, to check the temperature inside your refrigerator. The refrigerator should be 40°F or lower and the freezer 0°F or lower.
  • Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away–especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry.
  • Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with hot water and liquid soap, then rinse.
  • Divide leftovers into shallow containers to promote rapid, even cooling. Cover with airtight lids or enclose in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Use leftovers within 3 to 4 days.
  • Use precooked or ready-to-eat food as soon as you can. Do not store the product in the refrigerator beyond the use-by date; follow USDA refrigerator storage time guidelines:
    • Hot Dogs – store opened packages no longer than 1 week and unopened packages no longer than 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
    • Luncheon and Deli Meat – store factory-sealed, unopened packages no longer than 2 weeks. Store opened packages and meat sliced at a local deli no longer than 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. [11]

Additional preventive steps and precautions can be found on the websites of most State Departments of Health, including, for example, the Minnesota Department of Health. [20] There is also excellent information to be found at the Extension Service website of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at University of Florida. [27]

 

Recent Outbreaks

Unpasteurized Cheese Listeria Outbreak (Roos Foods) Roos Foods Cheese Listeria Outbreak

Cheese made by Roos Foods was recalled after a Listeria outbreak.… Continued

Crave Brothers Cheeses Linked to Listeria Outbreak Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Listeria Outbreak

Crave Brothers cheeses linked to Listeria outbreak… Continued

Consumer Resources

Listeria Consumer Resources… Continued

More Outbreaks